A new technology creates colorful images by manipulating light rather than applying ink.
The technology, developed by researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, relies on engineered materials known as metamaterials and was used to create the tiny, 50-micrometer-wide Missouri S&T athletic logo seen above.
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Conventional color printing applies various semi-transparent inks on top of each other to produce different hues, but this technique takes a different approach. Rather than using ink, researchers made extremely small perforations in a structure made of two thin films of silver separated by a film of silica.
Then, the researchers poked minuscule holes into the top layer of silver film, which was a scant 25 nanometers deep.
The holes had different diameters ranging from 45 to 75 nanometers and corresponded to the desired absorption of light at various wavelengths. When light was shined onto the structure, the holes allowed certain wavelengths through at specific locations, producing the colorful logo.
"Unlike the printing process of an inkjet or laserjet printer, where mixed color pigments are used, there is no color ink used in our structural printing process – only different hole sizes on a thing metallic layer," Dr. Jie Gao, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Missouri S&T told Gizmag.
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The Missouri S&T team believes the mechanical coloring on the silver/silica materials provide a much higher printing resolution than conventional color printing, according to Gizmag.
The researchers' findings were recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.